Theories are scientific ideas based on multiple assumptions and principles, while urban planning is a strategy given to plan a city/area/space keeping environmental and political context in mind, it helps in defining the land use, building a better transportation connection, and developing water bodies. There are many planning architects and urban designers/planners who gave their ideas to generalize a framework based on their observations, many of them came and went but their principles remained with us, some got successful and some were evolved with time but have taught us a lot to take a further step. There are tons of theories which caters to urban development in an organised manner, responding to the need, growth and change of time. Some of the major ones are as follows.

1. Garden city Concept (1898-1902); By Ebenezer Howard | Planning Architects

The three magnet concept was an utopian vision by Ebenezer Howard, a well known urban planner of the 19th century. The illustration below shows the three kinds, two which were existing with some positives and some negatives, and the third one Howard proposed by combining the two; i.e. town-country. The amalgamation of these two magnets helped in compensating the disadvantages of both; the town and countryside. Introducing the greenbelts in cities brought the working class people near to the farm side and empowered the lifestyles of both. The concept evolved in many stages from the “three magnet theory’’ to “Garden cities of to-morrow”.

With the growing grid of the concept Howard gave an assumed data, and pattern of circular rings linked with each other via different road networks. The first city planned on this theory was Letchworth garden city, then came the Welwayn garden city in the UK, and slowly people started following the theory and built many more of them. 

Planning Architects - Garden city Concept (1898-1902); By Ebenezer Howard - Sheet1
Garden city Concept: ©
Garden city Concept (1898-1902); By Ebenezer Howard - Sheet2
Garden city Concept: ©
Garden city Concept (1898-1902); By Ebenezer Howard - Sheet3
Garden city Concept: ©

2. Geddian trio Concept; Patrick Geddes

Sir patrick geddes believed in the concept of region and gave power to human life more than anything, His values lied on emphasizing human life and energy than to beautify them. Taking inspiration from a sociologist Frédéric Le Play’s triad quoting to ʻLieu, Travail, Familleʼ geddes translated them “Work, Place, Folkʼ’ and gave a theory of urban planning. Giving importance to local surveys and human centric designs, depending on an inhabitant’s workstyle, their culture, heritage, beliefs,  the region’s topography, climatic changes, networks and everything, the geddian trio concept came into existence.

Planning Architects - Geddian trio Concept; Patrick Geddes - Sheet1
Geddian trio Concept; Patrick Geddes - Sheet2

3. Concentric Zone model; Ernest Burgess

One of the earliest models in urban history talking about the different land use was the burgess model. According to Burgess urban growth is all about an individual’s social category or affordability. The city has 6 major concentric zones;

 Zone I: The CBD of the city where all the things are accessible.

 Zone II: Located adjacent to CBD, have most of the industrial zones, generating employment to nearby poor category residents.

 Zone III: This zone is dedicated to the most poor category of the city, mostly immigrants and people who can’t afford living far from industries.

 Zone IV: Residents devoted to working class category people. 

 Zone V: It has higher quality lands than the previous one, mostly dedicated to business people.

 Zone VI: For the high class category, where they can afford luxury and a place away from working chaos.

Concentric zone model: 

Planning Architects - Concentric Zone model; Ernest Burgess

This was not a successful theory but further helped in categorising the land use pattern.

4. Sector theory; Homer Hoyt

Sector theory, also known as Hoyt’s model, was an evolution of the Burgess model. Hoyt debates about the growth of a city is never in concentric rings but has different typology of growth. As shown below A city is developed in multiple components with multiple arrangements.

Sector theory; Homer Hoyt
Sector theory: ©

5. Multi nuclei theory; Harris and Ullman | Planning Architects

Based on urban land use, the theory defines the central part as an origin, and the whole city is developed around a central nuclei having a single CBD (Central Business District).  

An evolution of single nuclei theory, where two legends Harris and Ullman proved that a city doesn’t grow around a single nuclei but has multi focie, and each point acts as a growing point.  Due to increase in population and growth in car movement not all the farther rings can reach to the center, yet need their own reaching point. The size and value of a CBD can differ, having a bigger CBD at the center and smallest in the outskirts can be one strategy.

Planning Architects - Multi nuclei theory; Harris and Ullman
Multi nuclei theory: ©

6. City of To-morrow; Le Corbusier

A theory by world’s famous architect; Le corbusier. Expanding his vision from a building to a city, corbusier gave this theory to approach ‘urban crises’. According to corbusier, people would rather choose to live in the outskirts than to be in a city, thus a city should be planned with accommodating the central part for commerce and covering the surrounding with greens. The central zone should have all the skyscrapers while the remaining residential belt to be developed in zigzag pattern with leaving the required setback. 

City of Tomorrow:

City of To-morrow; Le Corbusier - Sheet1
Planning Architects - City of To-morrow; Le Corbusier - Sheet2

7. Broadacre city concept; FL Wright

Based on a theory of very famous architect FL Wright, a broadacre city was designed on a socio-political scheme. Where a single family will be given 1 Acre of plot land and will be given a full freedom to their way of living.With the concept of garden city, Wright tried to take green belts to another level and give a new definition to the landscape, so that people can be connected with nature and with each other with liberty and prosperity US got a new definition to city development.

Broadacre city concept; FL Wright

8. Neighborhood unit concept; Clarence A. Perry

The neighborhood unit theory was an initiative to bring everything in a single unit. Catering to the need of a single family on the basis of six factors:

  1. A child can reach to school without crossing a street traffic
  2. Each and every dwelling has access to centrally located elementary school, and doesn’t exceed the distance more than one and a half mile
  3. A departmental store to be located on a walking distance from a house.
  4. Workplace to have convenient transportation.
  5. 10% of a single unit should have greens with parks and playgrounds.
  6. The infrastructure should cater to the needs.

One of the most famous examples is Radburn city, with enclaves, blocks and superblocks planned in an organised manner.

Planning Architects - Neighborhood unit concept; Clarence A. Perry
Neighborhood unit concept: ©

9. Concept of human settlement; K.A. DOXIADIS

K.A. Doxiadis, a greek architect and a town planner gave his theory on the term ekistics defined for human settlement. His concept revolved around human experience with nature, man, society, shells and networks.  

Concept of human settlement; K.A. DOXIADIS
Concept of human settlement: ©

10. Mile high city concept; FL Wright | Planning Architects

An utopian vision to move the horizontal growth of population vertically up.The theory mentioned living of a community on skyscrapers and leaving the lands for green areas and nature. As the population increase was noticeable, so was the vision appreciable.

Mile high city concept; FL Wright
Mile high city concept: ©



Ankita Agrawal is a 4th-year undergraduate, pursuing her Bachelor's of architecture from MITS, Gwalior MP. She often sees herself as a curious and determined individual, enjoying new experiments in life. She is a keen learner, observer, and implementer. She travels to broaden her mind, experience a new culture and its essence to enrich her creativity.